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Books about China

As we head toward the weekend, I am pretty satisfied with the work I’ve gotten done on our China unit Study.  But being Lit Mama, I couldn’t leave my readers with just a post about researching for a unit study.  I have to tell you about the books I’ve chosen to go along with our Asia study.


I am fortunate enough to have a room walled in bookshelves (thanks to my beautiful husband) and I have filled them over the years with a plethora of both fiction and nonfiction.  So the first place I go when I’m looking for literature to add to our curriculum is my own bookshelf.  Good thing I’m always picking up new books to add.  There’s usually something I’m looking for right there, already in my house. (I should catalog these books, but who has time for that?!)

The Star FisherOne of the books I’m going to utilize from my own shelf is The Star Fisher by Laurence Yep.  This is a beautiful novel about a Chinese-American family who comes to West Virginia in 1927 and faces prejudice and persecution.  We’re going to read it so that the Littles can be reminded why prejudice is perhaps the Worst Human Flaw Ever, as well as to gain insight into Chinese culture.

The other book I’ll be using off my own shelf is The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. Product DetailsSince we’ll be studying Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism as part of Asian history, and the Littles read the complete A.A. Milne line of Pooh books this year, I think it will be a fun and insightful addition to those lessons.  If you’re unfamiliar with this wondrous book, it uses quotes from Pooh and Pooh stories to teach the basic tenets of Taoism.  If you love Pooh at all, you will find yourself not only laughing out loud at his antics, but reflecting on how just how powerful a story Winnie-the-Pooh is.  Good stuff.

My wishlist on Amazon is overflowing with books I want to buy, but I assume we’ll only have time for maybe three before we move on to Africa, depending on their length.  My top pick for a second fiction book is The Road from Home by David Kherdian.  I haven’t read it yet, but it’s a YA book about the Armenian Holocaust at the hands of the Turks.  I think it will add a rich history lesson to our curriculum as well as preparing the Littles to learn about the World War II Holocaust in years to come (hopefully the 2016-2017 school year, but my plans Do tend to change over time).

The Caravan to Tibet by Deepak Agarwal is also on my wishlist, because it is set in India and Tibet (which is a province of China) and looks like a good action story.  The caravan journey is one which was actually undertaken by Indian peoples in times past, and I get the impression there will be lots of descriptions of India and Tibet and the mountains that separate them.  You can’t really ask for more from a book young boys will be reading.

A Royal Diaries book, Lady of Ch’iao Kuo, Warrior of the South, Southern China A.D. 531 by Laurence Yep, rounds out my list of hopefuls.  It tells the story of a young girl who proves herself to be a great leader and military strategist when her world is threatened by war.  I love that it is set in such a long-ago time and the protagonist is female.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions as to which book you would include in a China unit study.  If you have any other suggestions that are near and dear to your heart, please let me know about them, too.  I’m so excited about getting all of this together, and it feels like choosing the lit is one step closer to done!

Love wins,


Life Lessons from The Hobbit

Image result for the hobbitWe are nearing the end of The Hobbit.  We are lamenting the fact.  We all want to stay in Tolkien’s world a bit longer.  Littlest even suggested reading The Trilogy outside of school.  Together, but without the study guide.  I am considering it:  A study guide would help deepen their understanding.  Would they enjoy it more if they didn’t have to answer questions after each chapter?  Would they enjoy it less if I didn’t guide them into thinking about the story more deeply?  Could we do it book-club style?

Whatever–I am all about reading Tolkien for any reason, so I will probably cave.

One of the questions I asked my Littles for today’s chapter of The Hobbit was, “Why did Bilbo give the Arkenstone to Bard?”  If you know the story, from either the book or the films, you know this a pivotal point in the book.  Their answers were many.  And short.

“He wanted to help Bard with the trade.”

“He was weary of being in the mountain.”

“He didn’t want Thorin to starve.”

All true answers.  But I wanted something deeper.  So I kept asking, “Why?”  What purpose could Bilbo be serving in helping Bard with the trade and keeping Thorin from starving and even getting out of the mountain?  They came to it, eventually, without any statements from me.  Just continually leading questions.

Bilbo was trying to save everybody.  This tiny being who once believed he had no adventurous spirit or courage and had been through so many tests of his valor… In the end, he just wanted to save everybody the strife he saw coming if Thorin and Bard continued their stand-off.  Why?

There are a couple of true life lessons I want my Littles to leave home having ingrained in their beings.  Be Kind.  Stand Up For What Is Right.  (In fact, my favorite thing about Disney’s live-action Cinderella is that Ella’s mother’s final advice to her daughter is, “Be kind and have courage.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.)

So I told the Littles as we discussed Bilbo’s motives, “Tolkien is showing us what a true hero does.  He doesn’t just rush into battle, sword blazing, haloed by courage.  He is kind. To everyone.  He stands up for what is right.  It doesn’t always take a battle to do that.”  I haven’t been able to drive that lesson home so well since we studied Samuel Adams and the Revolutionary War.

When we are kind, we put a good and light energy into the world that pays both forward and backward.  Especially if we are kind for no reason.  One example I set is that I always read the name tags of people working in the public (cashiers, fast food clerks, etc.), and call them by name when speaking to them.  Invariably, they smile.  Granted, they are also kind back to me, which gets me better service, but that is not the reason I take the time to read their names and use them.  I do it because I have worked such jobs and I know how it can start to feel like people are not really seeing you as a human being.  And I don’t ever want to make another person feel that way.

When we have the courage to speak up for what we believe in and take action to support those beliefs, we push back against tyranny.  My Littles understand that each person is an individual with individual thoughts and beliefs, and that we all have the right to those things.  So they don’t pressure others to think like them, and they don’t sit back and allow others to pressure them into behaving in a way that goes against their own beliefs.  It’s a great weapon against peer pressure that will help them throughout their lives.

I was glad that here in our final week of school we got to have such a great discussion about something so important to me.  I guess that means I owe even more gratitude to Tolkien than I previously thought.  I don’t mind.  I can’t wait to see what he teaches us in The Trilogy.

Be Kind.

And Have Courage.

Love wins,


Make an Awesome Novel Study Guide

Speaking of letting them lead, we were supposed to round out our literature year with Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.  We were all set to read it, having finished The Story of Dr. Dolittle.  Then my Littles surprised and humbled me once more by asking, “Mama, can we read The Hobbit instead?”


I was raised on The Hobbit.  Tolkien was a household hero.  So for my Littles to actually request the book made me nothing short of ecstatic.  I wanted them to really get the full effect of the novel–light (good) versus dark (evil), and secret maps, lost treasures, fantastic characters and courage beyond imagining.  So this called for no ordinary study guide.

IMG_20150421_092911738It called for this.  Not just a folder or binder with some notebooking pages and worksheets thrown in, but a study guide that made them feel like part of the adventure.  So the first thing I did was Google a map of Middle Earth and Thorin’s map showing the way to the Lonely Mountain.  I printed them out and we tea-stained them to make them look old.  We also tea-stained a bunch of lined paper and some worksheets we would be using.  I got out my handy-dandy woodburner and burned the edges of the maps and of the folders (in this case, I three-hole punched manilla folders because they were already the right color), and the Littles glued their maps of Middle Earth to the front.


We glued Thorin’s map into the inside cover.  That way as the company travels to the Lonely Mountain, we can follow their path on both maps.  We used binder rings to add the notebooking paper and worksheets to the folder because I’ve found they are easier to use than brads when you’re dealing with these types of folders.


We didn’t have a lot of worksheets for this guide, but I love to have them keep a character list, especially for books with this many characters.  (I mean, the awesome thing about The Hobbit is that there are pretty much 15 main characters.  15.  Sure, some of the dwarves and even Gandalf get relegated to minor characters throughout the book, but you still have to keep them straight in your head.)  I made this simple worksheet, we tea-stained it and burned the edges… Voila–a worksheet that fits our theme.


As usual, we mostly use this folder for answering daily questions about our reading and doing fun writing exercises like making up dialogues between two characters who don’t ever really speak in the book.  The Littles enjoy it more when they know they helped create such a cool place to keep their work.  And Littlest Cannot Wait till we’re done reading so he can use his maps for play.  With only 2 weeks of school left, he doesn’t have long.

Making this kind of study guide is easy and fun and adaptable to almost any adventure story.  In fact, we did one for Robinson Crusoe two years ago that was made to look like a journal.  If I can dig one out, I’ll take a pic and post it for you later in the week.  In the meantime, keep making literature fun!

Love wins,


Midway through National Reading Month

You may or may not know that March is National Reading Month.  Of course, you know the Lit Mama, Every month is National Reading Month at my house.  But March is a great time, beginning with the celebration of Dr. Seuss’s birthday on the 2nd, to encourage littles to get in the reading habit.

Image result for march is national reading month

This month encourages us to remember the value and joy of shared reading, of reading alone, of utilizing our libraries, and of trying a new genre or author.

There are a great many activities to celebrate National Reading Month.  Here are just a few:

1. Visit your local library each week and pick up new books for your littles to enjoy.

2. If you don’t already do so, pick a chapter book and read aloud with your littles for fifteen minutes a day.

3. Hold a book club with your littles, assigning a set number of chapters for each week followed by a discussion of the chapters at week’s end.

4. Set up a contest where the little who reads the most books by the end of the month wins a prize–a fancy bookmark, a book light, or a new book.

5. Pick books with settings in different countries and have a ”read around the world” month.

6. Find an appropriate audiobook to listen to in the car while running errands.

7. For older littles, break out your old picture books and have a carefree day of easy reading!

8. For those not yet reading, use picture books to have fun phonics lessons and letter recognition.

9. Donate well-loved books to less fortunate children so they have the same opportunities to learn and explore your littles have had.

Image result for march is national reading month

If you do a Google search, you’ll soon find that there are other months designated as National Reading Month–National Family Reading Month in May, National Book Club Reading Month in October…. Actually, I saw stuff for just about every month.  I like March because of the Seuss tie-in (honestly, who truly does not like Green Eggs and Ham?).  But you could just follow our lead and make every month National Reading Month.  Your littles will be better off for it and even two weeks of reading aloud 15 minutes a day can lead to a habit.

Celebrate reading.  Remind your littles there’s nothing better in the whole world.  All hail the Great Seuss.  And if you have any other ideas about how to recognize Reading Month, please share them with me.

Love wins,